Fields of colour
The painter of Bedlington terriers, the Crucifixion and bright landscapes, Crz igie Aitchison, is celebrated. Patti Welsh discovers the previously unknown.
I should be ashamed of myself. For too long. the nanre (.‘raigie Aitchison has lloated aimlessly round nry head. never once leading tire to urake further enquires. Besieged by wave after wave of [he marl br'sl thing in t‘mllt’lil/NH‘HI')‘ url admittedly it's difﬁcult to keep one eye on tried and tested ground. Now. having finally experienced his work. I realise Aitchison has been standing on the beach and waving to the public for years. People. it's tinre to swim ashore. To mark Aitchison‘s 70th birthday. a major retrospective of his work is being put on by Glasgow‘s Gallery Of Modern Art.
By deﬁnition. the Scottish. London-based. Craigie Aitchison is a figurative artist. with work ranging from portraiture to landscapes and still-life. Since the 50s. his use of luminescent colour. simple forms and minimal detail has been distinctive and even the earliest works appear contemporary and relevant today. ()ften verging on the abstract. ﬁickering
through exhibition catalogues stretching back twenty years. there does not seem to be a dull moment in this man‘s repertoire. Vibrant ﬁelds of rich colour and a frequently meditative mood make his works itrrtrrediaiely compelling.
Born in Edinburgh in I926 atrd raised irr Dunbartonshire. Aitchison‘s Presbyterian backgrorrnd -~ historically a tradition not renowned for splashing colour around —— seems to have been tempered by his father's enlightened perspective. The family made regular Sunday visits to various Christian services and early on the pageantr'y of Catholicism captivated the young Aitclrison. Equally important. Aitchison lived close to mountains and sea and summer family holidays were spent on Arran. with views overlooking lloly Island.
Already possessing an aesthetic characterised by the space and light of his Scottish upbringing. in I952. at the age of 25. .-\itchison opted out of studying law and entered London's Slade School of Art. After graduating. a scholarship took him to the British School in Rome. lnterrsely focused by this Italian experience. from the late 50s to the present. Aitchison‘s work has shown amazing consistency. Every composition exhibits a near-classical rigour. where planes of often bright colour are inhabited by faultlesst placed forms and reﬁned detail.
Throughout his working life. one frequently recurring motif is the Cruciﬁxion. When questioned on the phone about the relevance of the Crucifixion in an increasingly secular age. Aitchison replies 'I am
just recording a horriﬁc story which I happen to
believe in. It's good if you can communicate. but if someone doesn‘t like something. there‘s not much you can tIo.‘
No worries there. Aitchison's work undoubtedly communicates. exuding a tangible quality that deﬁes
Christ on the cross: One at Aitchlson’s many paintings at the Cruciilxion
wordy definition — it simply requires experience. Without limiting its appeal. he has successfully articulated Christian themes along with a passion for Bedlington terriers and the landscape. The paintings celebrate life and the moment — sometimes poignant. sad or humorous — and one critic has compared him to Van Gogh in ‘spirit and objectivization.‘ A daunting popular comparison. perhaps. but not wholly surprising. Cruigic: The Art (2/‘Cruigie slilr/Iixmt is (1/ NW (ht/Icy (Ime/vm Ari. (Ilus‘gorr' Fri /4 Jun—Sim 8 Sch The Art ()_/'( ‘ruigic Aiir'liismr by Andrew (iibbmr Iii/limits is published by ('(lililill'lln’ Books (ll [25.
As music manias go, one that got a whole generation seriously screaming ior more (unless you were a Stones ian oi course) were those liverpool boys, the Beatles. That may have been back in the 608 but Beatlemania is currently having a revival at Transmission.
It may not quite be a walk down Penny lane or the Cavern revisited but Transmission could well be a nightclub. The gallery is black, all natural light banished, and a lone glitter ball spins, sending hundreds oi white light spots whirling and colliding across the dark space. noted around, set against walls and on the iloor, are occasional, small iramed pictures oi the clean-cut idols. On one wall a doorway is painted - 3 Savile Bow - the london headquarters oi Apple Records. And in the centre oi the gallery sits a sound system, with tour attendant speakers, blasting out Beatle hits.
Karen Kilimnik’s installation Me And The Boys has transiormed Transmission into an audio-visual celebration oi the Beatles.
For years, the 30-something, Philadelphia-born and now New York- _ based artist Karen Kilimnik has been a member oi the Beatles tan club. listen hard to the Beatles’ soundtrack and you hear Kilimnik singing along to the songs she knows and loves. But it you stand a while longer in the darkened space, a sense oi the tragic hits. This is a shrine oi an installation, as liieless
The-ab Four: Karen Kilimnik‘s
as the Elvis slogan, The King lives! Kilimnik was lined up to talk about
her work, but she declined to make
an appearance. Seemineg she is not
Kilimnik’s work is iantasy deep- irozen. A screamless scream oi Beatlemania. Perhaps this is what Kilimnik is iascinated by: the blind alley oi obsession. like teenage girls sitting ior endless hours in blacked- out bedrooms, crooning to their pin- ups, dreaming oi some encounter that will never be, Kilimnik dreams irom the never-never sidelines on history.
Just the title - Me And The Boys- smacks oi delusion.
The gilt-coloured iramed pictures, strategically placed around the gallery, are like religious icons to be venerated. But there’s a picture oi Kilimnik, her iace made-up to look 60s with heavily lined eyes, placed alongside a photo oi her idols. Yet just as her 605 look is unconvincing, you sense she knows she has put herseli among gods that she will never touch. And the more the hits play on - Kilimnik’s quiet yet tuneiul enough singalong echoing sorrowiul hymn singing - a sense oi disquiet sets in. This is dead end iantasy land, and at course the Savile Row doorway is a doorway to nowhere.
Kilimnik’s work is about passion that can be painiul. Idols that are dead and dreams that are void. While others retreat to their bedrooms and clutch pillows tight, Kilimnik makes her private passions public. Maybe that’s why she’s not happy to talk, she’s said enough already. Or maybe it’s all make believe and she was never a ian. (Susanna Beaumont)
Me And The Boys is at Transmission, Glasgow until Sat 29 Jun.
The List l-l-27 Jun I996 63